The Long Road to Retail

Posted by    |    August 11th, 2010 at 8:33 pm

The Jewish immigrants who wrote some of the most important retail stories in Dallas history (Neiman Marcus, Sanger Harris, Volks Brothers) took root in North Texas via varied routes of entry.  Until the early 1900s, nearly all Jewish immigrants began their U.S. journey by sailing into Northeastern ports.  Beginning in 1907, however, Galveston became their main port of entry.  But why the switch from the traditional ports of entry to a port thousands of miles to the south?  The Galveston Movement, of course!

 Back in the year 1881, Russian Czar Alexander II was assassinated and the country experienced the large-scale massacre of Jews.  In order to survive, thousands of Jews fled Russia and came to harbors in Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia. 

At the time, these port cities weren’t prepared for the massive number of immigrants coming to shore.  According to Bill Cherry in an article written for “Bill Cherry’s Galveston Memories”:

“There were few jobs and relatively no support groups set up to help them integrate into their new country… Consequently, it wasn’t long until the Russian Jews were bunched together and those areas became slums and ghettos.  Rather than…help solve the problems, citizens in those communities began to complain about the slums and ghettos full of Jews, and the pressure was put on the federal government to do something about curbing further immigration into those communities.”

If the Russian Jews were no longer welcomed in our Northeastern ports, where could they go to enter the United States?  The Jewish Immigrants’ Information Bureau considered three ports:  Charleston, New Orleans and Galveston. 

From the Handbook of Texas Online:  “Galveston, which was closer to job opportunities in the West, seemed the best choice.  Besides its location…Galveston’s small size did not encourage large numbers of Jews to settle there permanently.”

How did Galveston become the winning choice?  Enter Galveston’s Rabbi Henry Cohen.  He is widely credited for using keen salesmanship to convince the Bureau to choose Galveston.  He became the humanitarian face of the movement, meeting ships at the Galveston docks and helping guide the immigrants through the cumbersome arrival and distribution process.

An immigrant family at the port of Galveston

More than 10,000 immigrants came through the Port of Galveston between 1907 and 1914.  Many of these Jews remained in Galveston, but, according to Cherry, “the greatest number eventually moved on and settled in towns throughout the southern part of the United States.”

And Dallas welcomed them.

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